Coping with The Wilderness

Temptation Photo

As I’m writing this post I am also preparing to bake a King Cake for the first time. A King Cake is a traditional Mardi Gras dessert that’s essentially a hybrid between cinnamon rolls and birthday cake, and it is delicious. I am bringing it to a Mardi Gras-themed Birthday Party and Crawfish Boil tonight. Had we gone the more traditional route, this party would have happened on Tuesday this past week, as it was Mardi Gras: a day dedicated to gorging oneself with food, beverage, and  celebration in preparation for the solemn season of Lent that begins the following day.

Mardi Gras is often associated with the idea of temptation: parades, drinking, food, parties. Yet, the picture of temptation that we see in the biblical text is far different.

Matthew 4:1-11 tells us that the Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness, where he fasted for 40 days and 40 nights and was tempted by the devil. The whole fasting for 40 days and 40 nights thing points us back to Moses in Deuteronomy 8, 9, and a number of other texts, all emphasizing the connection between Moses’ and Jesus’ stories. The temptations that the devil then poses to Jesus are: 1) to turn stones into loaves of bread (he’s hungry from the fasting), 2) to jump off the Temple to prove that he’s the Son of God (Psalm 91 says that the angels would catch him), and 3) to worship the devil, and in return receive power over the entire world. In each instance, Jesus quotes Deuteronomy — the book in which Moses instructs the Israelites on how to best live in relationship with God — to explain why he refuses to give into the temptation.

While we could get into the minutia of each of the temptations and what they mean for us, at the end of the day we have the devil trying to get Jesus to abandon Deuteronomy, the words of Scripture, and therefore to let go of God. The devil tempts Jesus to do something antithetical to what God desires of Jesus and of us.

Jesus wasn’t comfortable when this temptation took place — he was starving and alone in the sweltering heat of the wilderness. I don’t know about you, but it takes so much less than that for me to start doubting and questioning God. There have been times in my life when a good traffic jam could have me asking, “What’s the point, God?!” I’ve become a bit less melodramatic over time, but you get the point: Jesus was actually struggling during his temptation. He easily could have given in — he could have abandoned his faith and his God, and taken actions that would have provided the food he craved, the safety he desired, and power over the earth. Instead, he chose to cling to God by citing the verses that speak of what God desperately wants of us: relationship.

We all have moments of doubt, concern, disbelief, and struggle. They are foundational elements of the complex lives we live. The lesson Jesus demonstrates in his temptation is that we are never alone in those moments — we have been given a guide to strengthen and to lead us in our darkest trials. At the end of the narrative, Matthew writes, “The devil left him, and angels came and took care of him” (4:11). The God who accompanied Jesus during his temptation is the same God who goes with us every moment of our lives. And, in the end, God shows up to provide the comfort, the care, and the love we’ve needed after our time in the wilderness.

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